PICTURED: Liz Newton with Bishop Bill at the most recent Assembly of Catholic Professionals.
Personally, I adore Dead Poets Society and have watched it countless times. Since having children I have also laughed along at his awesome Genie in Aladdin. His off-the-cuff hilarity in interviews, his voice impressions (Jack Nicholson springs to mind) and his stand-up were the stuff of legend. The world is less for his passing.
The same week Robin Williams died, after battling depression for most of his life, I was lucky enough to attend a luncheon at which Liz Newton was the keynote speaker. I had heard Liz speak last year and had found her honesty about her own struggles with depression profoundly moving and enlightening.
During her talk Liz read out one of her blog entries from earlier in the year when she was depressed. She described her depression as “a thick, stifling nothingness that threatens to drown me like a fly in molasses.” I have been struck both times I have heard Liz speak by her ability to explain what depression really is; to take those of us lucky enough not to have experienced depression to a place of understanding.
I heard the usual comments when Robin Williams died – the ones where people wonder how someone with access to the best psychological help, someone with a wonderful family, someone who clearly loved and cherished life could get to the point of not being able to carry on. We still live in a society where the majority just don’t understand what depression really is. It should not be used to describe a case of momentary blues. Liz describes depression as a place where logic and reason do not exist. How can anyone who has not experienced “soul pain so immense”, as Liz puts it, possibly understand how debilitating depression is for those who have it?
It is so important that this changes. Education and empathy are the drivers. Beyond Blue states that there are currently 3 million Australians living with anxiety and depression. The World Health Organisation believes that by 2030 mental illness will be the second biggest disease burden in the developed world, after heart disease. We will all experience or love someone who experiences a mental illness at some point. It is time we all understood it better.
Robin Williams’ death was a shock to us all, but for someone living with depression, his death is a terrifying reminder of the killer mental illness really is. Liz wrote in her blog, “With each episode of depression....when they come again, I am so stunned and angry. Even though all evidence points to the contrary, I would swear on the bible it isn’t ever going to pass; that this is the big one that I’ll never recover from. This is the one that will take my life.”
We can all play our part. We can learn more about mental illness. We can reach out to people who seem to be struggling and ask them if they are ok. We can encourage our employers to implement mental health-friendly strategies in our workplaces and create a culture where mental illness is not a taboo subject. As Liz said, depression is not a choice, laziness or cowardice, it is an illness; it is like “euthanasia of the soul”.
I feel privileged to have met the brave, gifted and inspiring Liz Newton. What amazes me the most about her is that even in her darkest moments when her depression sinks her “in a lead-lined box at the bottom of the ocean” she manages to reach out to others and relate the horrifying truth of her depression through her beautiful writing. Her honesty is an illuminating gift and a way for us to develop empathy for an illness that affects us all.
To read Liz’s blog visit www.zhuchi.com.au.